Theo Knaeble is unlike most small business owners.
The 25-year-old entrepreneur went to school to learn physics, but ended up building custom furniture, teaching people to ski and even creating a Shakespearian card game. Now Knaeble is doubling down on his latest venture: a membership-driven woodworking workshop.
Knaeble founded MPLS MAKE last year in the Northrup King Building, and is now relocating the community workshop to its own much larger space on Central Avenue in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District.
Since opening, MPLS MAKE has garnered a small handful of members, from young hobbyists to professionals who need access to more space and tools.
“It was very apparent very quickly that there was a need in the community to have a space that wasn’t your apartment to build something in ,” he told The Journal. “It filled up super fast and everybody who’s a member is super jazzed about it.”
MPLS MAKE is a membership-based studio with all the tools and room to craft most woodworking projects. Much like a gym membership, MPLS MAKE members have unlimited access to tools — everything from a couple table saws to rarer and more expensive tools — and shared studio space for $200 a month, or $150 for early adopters.
While building custom furniture with a friend — another business of Knaeble’s — he found himself with open studio space and woodworking tools, and then MPLS MAKE was born.
The organization reopened March 1 at 1858 Central Ave. NE in the Logan Park neighborhood. The 4,000-square-foot space, a former auto garage, offers plenty of room for expansion from the 500 square feet Knaeble had previously.
While not necessarily a new model to Northeast Minneapolis, Knaeble was inspired by a community workshop he was a member of in California. What sets MPLS MAKE apart, he says, is its community of woodworkers. If a member doesn’t know how to use a tool or start a project then they have plenty of others to turn to for help.
“If they don’t [know], everybody else in the room probably knows how to do it. Everybody wants to help,” he said. “I see that as something that’s going to grow and grow as we get more members. People are here because they want a community to create with, and they want to learn from each other too.”
So far the concept has attracted a handful of young woodworkers who have taken the craft on as a hobby, in addition to a few seasoned professionals. Knaeble wants the cost to be approachable for both people who make money off their work and those just learning the trade. Now the space churns out butcher blocks, wooden spoons —even furniture for Japanese gardens.
Jake Hemstad has been a member for the past few months and builds his own furniture, largely with hand tools. For the 25-year-old doctoral student studying computer science, woodworking isn’t a source of income, so splitting the cost of studio space and tools among fellow members has made it possible to continue his passion.
“I wouldn’t be able to have something like this built up until I was retired. To have it now at 25 is incredible,” he said.
Hemstad said the monthly dues are also less than what it would cost for him to move into a larger apartment or even outfit a woodworking space with tools at home.
For Kyle Huberty, MPLS MAKE made it possible for him to build models as an intern at an architecture firm. The firm doesn’t have its own infrastructure to create the models necessary for some projects, so it turned to Knaeble’s workshop for a couple months.
As a student, Huberty mainly worked in the evenings — sometimes until 4 a.m. Members can get into the MPLS MAKE studio 24/7 using an app on their phone.
“I liked having the flexibility,” he said.
Beyond an open studio space, Knaeble envisions MPLS MAKE as a resource for his member-woodworkers to sell their crafts. With a location set in the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, Knaeble is planning to show off the concept at events like Art-A-Whirl. He’ll also showcase members and their work on the website at mplsmake.com.
“We want people to come here and make cool stuff,” he said.
The people who’ve already signed onto the concept say it’s the down-to-earth quality of MPLS MAKE and Knaeble’s vision that have them sharing tools.
“I’ve really jumped wholesale into what very much feels like [a community],” Hemstad said. “I think that’s a product of the people and Theo especially, and the atmosphere that has built up because of that.”
A list of tools and other details on MPLS MAKE membership are available at mplsmake.com.